Back in the old days, when computers were bigger than cars, cops used a simple sheet of paper to jot down the details of a call for service. I saved a few old worksheets and occasionally pull one out to see what was happening on the street in, say, 1992.
Turns out the average workday twenty-plus years ago bears a striking resemblance to my last shift about a year ago, to include the inclusion of at least one domestic violence dispute per shift.
The continuing presence of domestic violence is disappointing, to say the least. Though mandatory arrest laws (passed around the time I first pinned on the badge) have changed the perception and enforcement of domestic assault, abusers are still out there, still demeaning their partners, still assaulting their lovers, still killing their spouses.
I mention this because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Though we may be preoccupied by falling leaves or spiraling footballs, our community and our nation should reserve time to reflect on the toll domestic violence exacts. This month the victims of domestic violence, their loved ones and those who advocate for change are eager to reach out to the public…
…to educate us:
- Abusers often intentionally isolate their victims from family and friends, control the finances and slowly ruin their self esteem until victims have no option but to stay in the abusive relationship
- Children who grow up in the midst of domestic abuse are more likely to take on the role of victim or abuser, as are boys who grow up without a responsible male figure in the home
- Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women, leading to 2 million injuries and 1,300 estimated deaths annually
- Approximately 5.8 billion is spent each year on costs related to treatment of domestic violence injuries
- 33% of all police time is spent responding to domestic disturbance calls
…and to inspire us:
- Women’s shelters, such as the Pierce County YWCA, will take in penniless victims of either sex (including their children) feed and shelter them, help them develop safe strategies, provide legal assistance and then assist with their return to the community
- Volunteer workers, speakers and businesses come together this month to put on a series of events* to spur discussion and to engage the local and national politicians who create domestic violence policy
From a law enforcement perspective, domestic violence is a clearly defined syndrome, a series of escalating crimes that can be tracked on a spreadsheet. Because cops walk into the middle of domestic disputes on a daily basis, they have a broad knowledge of the dynamics involved; they know how to handle enraged subjects and often do extraordinary work helping victims find shelter and safety from their abusers.
What I have learned through my own experience is that we can not police our way out of this problem. For all of our efforts, enforcement is a band aid.
For now, and until the full weight and commitment of the community at large weighs in, the statistics will remain unchanged.
And Domestic Violence will remain a fixture on a cop’s worksheet for years to come.
*Full disclosure: As a committee member of the YWCA, I attended one of this month’s events this past week. The guest speakers were Brad Forbes and Meadow Johnson, congressional staffers for Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Bremerton (Kilmer was unable to attend as he is confined to D.C. until the resolution of the government shutdown). They listened as local leaders, YWCA administrators and citizens described the ripple effect of the shutdown on their most vulnerable clients. Johnson promised to put this information before Rep. Kilmer, who himself has strongly advocated for victims of domestic violence, including supporting a current VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) bill being discussed in Congress.